A theory of air power to be sound and lasting will have to be based on the transport airplane rather than on the bomber. This deduction can be made from history, if one believes that history serves any purpose at all. Man now uses the air above him for a medium of transportation as he has always used the water around him. In the close analogy between airplane and ship, something of the future of one can be forecast from the history of the other.
The progress of the airplane has not reached a point, however, where it is possible for us to develop a concept of strategic and economic air power comparable to that of sea power. Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan derived that theory from a study of Western man’s achievements with the ocean-going ship over a period of three centuries. This period was the geographic age, one phase in man’s long conquest of his environment. We are now in another phase, and the airplane is the new tool that man is using in this same conquest. But the accomplishments of the airplane to date have been small when compared with those of the ship.
This may seem a reckless statement in the face of aviation progress in the past fifty years. The ubiquity of the airplane—its ability to be everywhere and to get anywhere, its disregard for geography—has made the world into a small place. Warfare in all of its forms is now dominated from the air, and within a decade aviation has become the primary means of long distance passenger travel.
Despite all this, the airplane does not meet the full requirement that man expects of his transport—to convey himself and his goods. Specifically, it cannot carry the raw materials our modern industrial society needs or the mass of supplies that modern warfare demands. It still has to be used chiefly as a passenger and mail carrier in peace and a weapons and critical cargo carrier in war. Freight and bulk cargo, even its own fuel, must be moved by other means.
The reason for this is that the airplane has not yet mastered its own medium. It still has trouble lifting itself into the air and staying there. Pay loads have to be kept small. Long take-off runs are necessary. Engine reliability must be absolute. Fuel capacity is limited. Weather is always a factor. These shortcomings are offset to a large extent by the airplane’s inherent speed, but not enough to make its use feasible as yet for large cargo movement except in special cases like the Berlin Airlift.
How will the drawbacks to the full employment of the airplane as a transport vehicle be overcome? The scientist and engineer, not the historian, must find the answer to that question. It may be a radical advance in design, like the ailerons and the reversible pitch propeller. It may be a revolutionary change in power application, such as using nuclear instead of chemical energy. The internal combustion engine has revolutionized land travel and land warfare in the last fifty years, but as a prime mover for a winged vehicle it may soon be considered obsolete.
Whatever it be, a means will be found to make the airplane master in its own medium. The history of man’s progress permits this assumption, but it also warns that when this happens there will be changes in economics and warfare far more radical than anything the airplane has brought so far.
Transportation and Man’s Progress
“Transportation is the essence of civilization.” This statement was made by none other than the apostle of the airplane, General Billy Mitchell. Other thinkers have called attention to this same truth. The basis of the sea power theory of Mahan, already referred to, is transportation. Mahan showed that the sea is a wide Common where travel is easy and cheap and a navy’s purpose is to protect the commerce that moves on it. The British geographer Mackinder based his Heartland theory on the assumption that “the century would not be old before all Asia is covered with railways.” Brooks Adams, youngest of the historian generation of the famous Adams family, was bluntest of all. He said, “Since few communities have ever been self-sufficing, men from the outset have been constrained to supply their necessities from without, either by purchase or force and that, to trade or rob, they have been obliged to travel.”
History provides many examples of the impact of improved transport on the affairs of man. The domestication of the horse is one of the oldest. The use of rivers is another whose origin has been lost in antiquity. The hard surfaced road had a function in the Roman world not unlike that of the airplane today. These roads provided a means of rapid communications for military and political purposes but comparatively little commerce moved on them. Food for Rome had to come by ship. Railroads helped the United States to gain economic ascendency over Great Britain in the nineteenth century. In Europe it was railroads that upset the military balance of power and ended the Pax Britannica.
The seaman, however, can see the future of the airplane best in the history of the ocean-going ship. The parallel between them was recognized early. Each is a small part of man’s environment contained within an envelope, operating in a fluid medium that is not man’s natural element but in which he nevertheless can get about easier and faster than he normally can by land. Movement by water was the less difficult and came first. But water is not everywhere, and so when powered flight was discovered, the passing of the ship was promptly predicted. This prediction can only be fulfilled when the airplane completely masters its own medium. Today the ship is still very much around.
The ship, too, was a long time overcoming the obstacles of its medium. Water transport had been used for ages, but the oceans became available for this purpose only five centuries ago. Man learned early to solve problems of displacement, flotation, and stability. Those of propulsion, location, and seaworthiness took more time. He found that on the surface of the water he could use the winds to move him, and sails became one of the earliest means of putting the forces of nature to his use. Sails afforded such an increase in power over oars that man was able to build something larger than a boat and to venture farther from land. These larger vehicles, called ships, could not be dragged easily onto the beach, and so the invention of the anchor followed. With the help of an anchor, a ship remains indefinitely in its own medium.
The magnetic properties of lodestone gave sailors the means to solve the problem of direction when out of sight of land. With the mariner’s compass and later the quadrant and chronometer, they could go anywhere upon the oceans. Since ocean travel demanded seaworthiness, improved hull construction and better rigging of sails soon followed. The full rigged ship had a hull with ample room for commercial cargo or broadside guns. In time sails were replaced by engines and the wind by the chemical energy of coal and oil fuel. Steel hulls, stronger and longer, replaced those of wood.
With his ocean-going ships, Western man broke out of the European peninsula and started the geographic age. This age brought the centuries of discovery and exploration, the dominance of the world by Europeans, and, above all, the founding of the United States. The geographic age, one of the great outbursts of energy in history, became possible when the ship was able to master its own medium and convey man and his goods to the littoral of the world.
In the sixteenth century the world seemed to become larger, but it was in fact becoming smaller. It became still smaller in the nineteenth century when steel and steam made larger and faster ships possible. Food could then be brought cheaply to Europe from agricultural countries overseas. This allowed such nations as Great Britain and Germany to concentrate on manufactured goods. Adam Smith’s division of labor had become world wide. Economics began to challenge nationalism.
Economics and the Bulk Cargo Airplane
The geographic age is now over. This is an industrial and scientific age with metals and chemical energy forming the basis of our modern industrial society. For the present and foreseeable future the primary requirement of this society will be fuels and the ores of iron, aluminum, and uranium, to mention the more important. These are bulk commodities, and since they are seldom found where they are needed, they must be transported by some reasonably cheap means. For the luckier countries, this is water transport.
What we call the Industrial Revolution started in England about the time of our War for Independence. This was a generation before the coming of the steamboat and the railroad. Making coal available for the smelting of iron brought it about. The coal was located in Wales and in the vicinity of Newcastle on England’s east coast. The ore was in the Pennine Hills of north central England. In 1761 a canal was built connecting some mines in Wales with the small town of Manchester, not far from the ore deposits. This was followed within fifteen years by a grand trunk canal system, connecting the Severn and Mersey Rivers of western England with the Thames and Trent in the east, all at Birmingham. Almost all of England then was opened to water transport. In a few years Birmingham and Manchester became large cities, Liverpool was a world port, and prosperity and economic leadership came to England. All this became possible when heavy commodities, foodstuffs, and raw materials were transferred from the pack horse and the drayer’s cart to the canal boat.
In the United States a transportation revolution took place between 1815 and 1861. Part of it was the construction of the Erie, Welland, and Sault Ste. Marie Canals which opened the Great Lakes to the Atlantic. The Civil War taught Americans how to use transport on a large scale. About the same time rich iron ore was found in the Lake Superior region. Able to bring their coal and iron ore together cheaply, Americans changed themselves from an agricultural to an industrial society in the thirty years after 1865.
In Germany railroads were built between 1830 and 1870 for military as well as economic purposes. Inland waterways were improved because cheap transportation was needed to connect the coal fields of the Ruhr and Silesia with the manufacturing areas of Westphalia and Saxony. Railroads and inland waterways plus policies of protection and zollverein (internal customs union) made Germany strong enough to challenge Britain.
A good transportation system, including cheap water transport, was essential for the industrial development of Great Britain, the United States, and Germany. The story is allegedly different for the latest member of the industrial family of nations. Russia is supposed to be a great industrial and military power in spite of an inferior transport system. Soviet Communism may be able to achieve this anomaly to some extent, but any map will show that something more than a political system is needed to develop and exploit the economic potential of the vast land mass of Russia on a scale comparable to that done in the United States.
All that is needed to compare the economies of these two nations is a brief look at their transportation. The American economy has a first class railroad system, a network of hard surfaced roads, water transport to haul ore across the Great Lakes and oil from Texas, plus electric power cables and pipe lines that crisscross our land.
What does the Soviet Union have to match this? It does have a fair railroad system. Trackage is only about one tenth of ours, but it carries a heavy traffic for the Russian railroads have a hard job to do. Many of their normal hauls would be prohibitive in our competitive economy. One such haul can serve as an example. The best coal in Russia is in the Kuznetsk Basin of Siberia while the iron ore is in the Urals. Thirteen hundred miles separate these areas. There are steel plants at both places and the single Trans-Siberian railroad must keep these supplied with coal or ore over this distance. This haul of bulk raw materials is longer than our water haul of the same materials across the Great Lakes.
The Chinese were supplied during the Korean War with some first class logistics over this same railroad line. The Soviet economy was able to do this because it has been conditioned to respond to pressure and priority. It can produce anything that the bosses want but, not everything. The bosses evidently wanted support for the Chinese Communists in this case, and steel production must have been sacrificed to do this. In the light of events it was a good military decision, but Americans may never know what effect the Korean War had on Russian steel output. It could account for the changed attitude of Soviet leaders in 1955.
Inland water transport carries less than ten percent of Russia’s freight because the rivers mostly run the wrong way and are frozen for a good part of the year. Some rivers with their joining canals have strategic significance for they connect Russia’s numerous seas. The Arctic or Northern Sea Route, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific, is still not an economic asset after a generation of effort. This is perhaps the toughest sea travel in the world. It has prime importance because the air bases along the Arctic Circle can be supplied by it. Overland supply of these bases would be a herculean task.
Geography also denies the Russians automobile transport of the kind we know. It has always been a tantalizing paradox why a country that can produce MIG airplanes and A and H bombs has practically no hard surfaced roads. The reason is almost too simple to be accepted. The fact is that, despite numerous other resources, there is not sufficient common rock and stone, properly placed, in Russia to build a highway net. Railroads and airfields require what stone there is and slave labor is used to collect that.
Such geographical drawbacks to transport prevent the Soviet Union from achieving an economic integration that will enable it to match the industrial and military power of the United States. History, however, warns that this situation will last only until Russia has a transportation revolution of its own. Any map will show that the airplane is the only form of transport that can bring this about. The missing part in this reasoning is a scientific or engineering one. Russia’s transportation revolution must wait until aircraft are able to carry the great quantities of raw materials that a modern industrial society needs.
Economic pressure is on the Soviets to find a way to do this. No such pressure is on us. We have sufficient cheap bulk cargo transport in our ships, trucks, railroads, and pipe lines. Air freight here is used only for emergencies, for avoiding inventories of high cost commodities, and for affording supply people a means of correcting mistakes. These are hardly incentives to concentrated research in this sphere of aircraft development. Instead, our aircraft research efforts are devoted to direct military applications and are manifested largely in attaining higher air speeds, a task more spectacular and perhaps easier than the prosaic one of lifting heavy loads from the ground.
On the other hand, geography forces the Russians to give attention to the development of bulk cargo air transport. With our lack of stress on this and their economy of “pressure and priority,” they could get in the lead of us in this category. History discloses nothing in the Russian character that should keep them from realizing that transportation of raw materials by air would give them the centralizing means by which to achieve a homogeneous economy bigger and stronger than ours. The bulk cargo aircraft could alter the present relative economic positions of the United States and Russia as the railroads did in the case of Great Britain and the United States. This should cause Americans to do some sober thinking.
So should the military capabilities of such an airplane.
War and the Bulk Cargo Airplane
The basic constituents of warfare are physical impact and movement, or fire and movement as they are expressed in the military schools. These constituents take the form of weapons and transport. The history of warfare for the military profession is largely the history of change in the character and use of both weapons and transport.
Such history shows that change in weapons has been evolutionary in nature. New weapons have joined rather than replaced old ones. Gunpowder had to await the harquebus, the broadside ship, and the artillery team before it became the sole determinant of battle. The pike and the harquebus went together for centuries, and today the bayonet is still part of the weapons family. History can explain why A and H bombs have not eliminated all other weapons.
Geopolitics and power strategies have been based on transport, however, rather than on weapons. The ocean-going ship, not gunpowder, created the sea power of Western man. The Mongol heartland was made possible by the horse, and Mackinder’s modern heartland was to be an Asia covered with railroads. It therefore seems safe to assume that when a philosophy of air power is finally derived, it will be based on the transport airplane rather than on the bomber. When the airplane has complete mastery of its own element, it will be able to do more than project fire power. It will then be able to position and maintain military strength anywhere, as ships do now along the littoral of the world and as railroads and automobiles can do wherever there is a proper road net.
Within recorded history nations have conducted warfare in two general fashions. dictated by their geographies. These manners of warfare or grand strategies have been termed continental and maritime. With the United States in control of the oceans, maritime strategy can now be called “peripheral.” Despite the present domination of all warfare by the weapons capability of the airplane, these two grand strategies or philosophies of war have persisted because they are inherent in the separateness of land and sea.
Maritime strategy, except in a limited sense, was also impossible as long as the military ship was tied to the oar. During the age of oars, warfare at sea was only land warfare extended. Ships were land bound, tactics afloat were similar to tactics ashore and the actual fighting was done by soldiers. The broadside firing sailing ship changed this. Sea fighting became a military art in its own right.
The first completely maritime war of any consequence took place two centuries after the advent of the ocean-going ship. This was the Anglo-Dutch War, 1652–54. Ships only were used, and the issues were settled at sea. No soldiers were involved except those sent to augment the crews of ships. Oddly enough the leaders who won this war for England were not seamen but officers from Cromwell’s New Model Army. These were the famous Generals-at-Sea of whom Robert Blake and George Monk are the best known.
The battles of the first Anglo-Dutch War forced a new kind of order into fighting at sea. It was impossible for sailing ships with broadside guns to use the line abreast formation of the galley period. The battles of the early sailing days therefore became melees in which commanders soon lost control. The Generals-at-Sea brought back military order by disposing and maneuvering the ships in a long line. This line ahead, as it was called, became the standard formation in naval warfare for three centuries. It was only abandoned in World War II when aircraft superseded the gun as the primary naval weapon and carriers became capital ships. Robert Blake, at least as great an English admiral as Nelson, also realized that the range and seaworthiness of the sailing warship gave new application to the military principle of freedom of action, and he initiated the blockade as a new tool of sea warfare.
Maritime strategy, peripheral strategy or sea power, whatever one wishes to call it, came only after ships were able to encircle continents. A new strategy will replace it only when bulk cargo aircraft can bypass oceans as the small German transport planes once bypassed the narrow waters between Greece and Crete. The air will then take over the present function of the sea as a medium of major military movement. Military operations can then be directed toward an objective without regard for the sea or the intervening land. An enveloping strategy will replace the separate continental and maritime strategies that nations are now forced to use because of their geographical positions.
What part will the oceans play in such a future? They will certainly not again become “gray and melancholy wastes” but will continue to have high military significance. Aircraft will have to cross them, and as now they will be a wide frontier on which our pickets can stand guard. The guided missile ship or some derivative of it may roam the seas in war, a terror to airmen as a submarine has been to mariners. With atomic power now a reality, the cargo submarine may be a possibility at last. The depths below the surface of the oceans could become another great Common where the prying eyes of radar cannot reach.
In the peacetime transport complex the oceans may take on an economic role not unlike that which the great rivers in the United States and Europe have today. In the first half of the nineteenth century the river steamboat was a primary factor in the economic growth of the country and it played a great military part in the Civil War. Soon after that war, however, railroads displaced it. Today the river passenger boat is gone and the passenger ocean liner seems about to follow it. But barges still ply our rivers and merchant ships most likely will always cross the oceans in a role not so critical as today but necessary always to a world-wide economy.
Man is still a land animal despite all of the new areas that science has opened to him. Ability to occupy and hold territory will be as necessary a function in the new warfare as it has been in the old, for ground forces form the only direct link between military and political power. Amphibious and garrison forces were always a part of British maritime strategy, and they were important in the recent naval war in the Pacific. Airborne and garrison forces can be expected to have comparable roles in the air warfare of the future. A ground fight need not always be a part of this warfare. As with the case of Japan, occupation may take place after as well as before surrender. With regard to cold war, experience has shown that occupation forces have a political significance out of proportion to their military strength. Berlin, Trieste, and present day Hong Kong attest to this. Neither sea nor air forces have this direct political attribute.
The ground forces, however, must be positioned, supported, and maintained by the other two arms. In this respect the Berlin Airlift affords us a glance into the military future. That great achievement of modern air transport deserves more attention than it has been getting from political and military thinkers. Shipping coal and food into Berlin by air was expensive, but it was the only way of maintaining our position there short of fighting and it was worth every dollar it cost. The Airlift was our first political victory of the cold war. It may have been a greater deterrent to the forces of Communism than Americans generally realize. The Soviets are familiar with the capabilities and limitations of transport aircraft. They know that Hitler’s decision to hold Stalingrad was based on Goering’s boast to put 500 tons of air lifted supplies daily into that city to support the German army holding it. The German Air Force was never able to get in more than 250 tons in one day and at the time of the surrender only 90 tons a day were coming in. The Soviet leaders who still fear the Germans have no doubt compared these figures with those of the Berlin Airlift. Western air power put more than 4,000 tons daily into Berlin for eighteen months!
All this has been no attempt at prediction, prophecy, or divination. The advent of the bulk cargo airplane and the consequences it will bring are purely military assumptions based on the history of man’s progress in the conquest of his environment. Deriving valid assumptions and making plans for their eventuality are the core of the military officer’s profession. If the bulk cargo airplane does not become a reality then there seems little chance that the United States will lose its present economic and military advantage in the foreseeable future. But making such an assumption in his own favor is the worst sin that a military man can commit.
War is a human activity and its study is a social science. The only true laboratory for a social science, for analysing the affairs of man, is history. What has been done here is to borrow the technique of the mathematician and do some historical extrapolation. At best it is no more than intelligent guessing, a necessary process which social scientists, after some early bad mistakes, now prefer to shun. If our speculation, based on history, had matched twentieth century research in natural science, we might not have let ourselves get into the position we are in today with natural forces unleashed but not controlled.
With such a preview as the Berlin Airlift, Americans should not be alarmed at the possibility of an economic and military revolution brought on by the enveloping strategy of the bulk cargo airplane. Using the lessons of the past, we can take hold of the future and make the airplane continue to work in our favor. We can use it to make the world into an integrated, cultural whole such as we have already made of our own country with the help of the railroad and the automobile. If Communism keeps the world divided, there will be plenty of it left for us to work on. The Free World now has the moral as well as the economic and military lead. We must keep them both.
This is the challenge to our air warfare thinkers today. With the experience of the social impact of nuclear weapons, it is also a challenge to the social, as well as to the natural, scientist.
Currently the President of the American Military Institute, Admiral Hayes graduated from the U. S. Naval Academy in 1924 and retired in 1954. During World War II he served in the Astoria and in the Third and Seventh Amphibious Forces. Later he was Commander Service Squadron One, Pacific Fleet. His last duty was as a faculty member of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. This is his fourth article to appear in the Proceedings.
 “Though analogy is often misleading, it is the least misleading thing we have.” This quotation is attributed to the English poet, Samuel Butler (1612–1680).
 William Mitchell, Winged Defense (N. Y., 1925), p. 77.
 Halford J Mackinder, “The Geographical Pivot of History.” Geographical Journal, Vol. 23 (1904), pp. 421–437. Reprinted many times.
 Brooks Adams, “War as the Ultimate Form of Economic Competition.” U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Vol. 29 (1903), p. 829. This thesis is also in Adams’ books. George F. Kennan has written that Brooks Adams came probably closer than any other American of his day to a sort of an intellectual premonition of what the future had in store for us.
 Georges Jorre, The Soviet Union, The Land and Its People (London, 1950), pp. 78–79. See Also Mackinder’s “The Geographical Pivot of History.”
 Brooks Adams, The New Empire (1903), pp. 167–168.
 W. Anders, Hitler’s Defeat in Russia (Chicago, 1953), pp. 124–128.
 Economists are the exception. Their predictions never seem to take place any more because we do something about such predictions when they are made. As a result the economic curve has been smoothed out and we have more confidence now in economists than we ever had.